Families – huh? Who’d have them?
For the last ten days I have had my 36-year old son Barry staying with me. We’ve always had an intense (some might say ‘love/hate’) relationship. I sometimes like to describe our respective characters as being akin to ‘chalk and cheese’, but I’d guess another – and just as logical – view might be that we’re actually very similar – like the proverbial ‘two peas in a pod’ even – and maybe this is the real reason that we tend to wind each other up.
Or rather, he winds me up.
Let me explain. I’m a simple sort of person, a bit black and white if you like, and I’m perfectly happy in my own company.
I’m not that interested in other people. I rarely go out. All my life wherever possible I’ve avoided dinners, lunches and cocktail parties, dances, ‘going down the pub’ – and even the concept of just popping round to see people for a chat.
Any form of socialising, really.
Firstly, because – when you’re not that interested in other people, especially those you come across that you’re unlikely to meet ever again – chit-chatting with them is an uphill task, not to say bloody hard work. Furthermore, it’s something for which I possess practically zero natural facility, a fact that I accept and indeed embrace.
It’s is a circular phenomenon, of course. You’re no good at socialising, so you try to avoid getting into social situations. And yet, precisely because you avoid social situations, ergo you never improve your abilities to chat, nor ever feel comfortable in them!
And secondly, for good or ill, I’ve always subscribed to the view that in life people can either do things … or they can sit around talking about them.
[In a similar context – if memory serves it was writing or journalism – a character in George Bernard Shaw’s 1903 play Man And Superman tells another “Remember, those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach …”].
Thus, for me, the prospect of sitting around talking about doing things – or indeed about nothing at all – is a potential waste of my time that otherwise might have been used for some sort of achievement, whether that be creatively, spiritually or in the form of making progress upon (or completing) some project or another.
In the event, of course, the truth is rarely quite so heroic as I’m implying. Whenever I do have time to myself, there’s no guarantee that I’m going to use it productively.
I’m just as likely to fritter it away watching Escape To The Country or Bargain Hunt, or whatever dross is on television in the afternoon instead.
It’s my life and, if I waste it, then it’s only my problem.
Where I get irritated is when other people insist upon socialising with me, or call me up for a chat, or ‘pop round to see me’ unannounced, for no other reason than they love socialising and so assume that everyone else does too.
I wouldn’t mind if they asked first. But they never do, of course.
And so, inevitably I reach a stage where every day I get up and ‘do my chores’, i.e. go through a list of things I have to do for other people first … before I can then relax, ‘go off the clock’ … and hopefully at some point then have the rest of the day to myself.
However. When you’ve had several days, or even several weeks, during which you’ve been constantly doing things for other people that increasingly mount up and sometimes take all day to tick off … eventually it all begins to get on top of you. Especially when you’re paying for most of it and don’t have too much money to spare and/or are now reduced to going through your meagre savings.
You begin getting up in the middle of the night partly because it’s the one and only part of the day that you ever get time to yourself.
And then, never mind any or all of the above, a totally new dimension arrives when Barry comes to stay.
Barry has always been a complete law unto himself and in a manner which grates with me.
I operate largely upon planning and punctuality. Barry doesn’t. He does things in an order and at a time which suits himself alone. It doesn’t matter what else anyone had planned or suggested.
It has always been thus – he was like this at the age of six and he’s like it now, thirty years later.
Yesterday I had ordered a car to come and pick us up at 8.15am. I was therefore ready to depart at 8.00am. Barry was only midway through his ablutions in the bathroom at 8.19am, with the car waiting in the street outside.
When he finally emerged, he immediately began playing around on his computer (seeking to find invoices and correspondence with a hospital that he is in dispute with over payments). I remonstrated with him and suggested he do this another day.
He thus joined me on our way out of the building, only to turn around and say that he thought he’d put a plaster over his operation wound. I hummed & harred that he hadn’t got up earlier and done this before … and so we had a bit of an atmosphere in the back of the car all the way to our appointment.
But it’s not just that. Barry eats like a horse and when he cooks he never cleans anything up.
Plus I buy certain things for my own consumption (e.g. King prawns for my salads and a particular type of sour-dough cheese biscuit), so – of course – when he’s staying Barry eats them, leaving me regularly discovering that my planned next meal has already been consumed.
When 20 cigarettes cost about £11.50 a packet that’s quite expensive for the lender and also (in my book) amounts to a pretty strange way of going about quitting smoking. But then, of course, in Barry’s weird mind, maybe it’s entirely logical [“I’m not buying any cigarettes, which means I’ve given them up …”].
For someone who for years has done a very responsible and difficult job as the captain of a team working for a series of demanding owners in a high-pressure industry – and therefore of necessity required of his crew strict and absolute discipline, tidiness, cleanliness and timetable adherence – since his recent return to the UK, Barry has given a very good impression of having reverted to being the chaotic, shambling (oblivious to any notion of cleanliness and order in his bedroom, bathroom and/or the kitchen) annoying teenager that I used to have to cope with two decades ago.